To Get Your Abs "POP"
More Training or More Dieting?
By Tom Venuto, author of
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
managed to get my body fat down to about 6.5%,
according to my calipers. I'm starting to see the
outline of my abs in certain lighting
conditions, but they certainly don't pop out
like a washboard. I must also say that I've only
been training them with a vengeance in the last 4
months. Before that I thought I'd see them when I
got lean enough - that's what I was told - "everyone
already has six pack abs, they're just covered with
fat." Do I keep trying to lose even more body fat
to expose the six pack, or do I have to increase
the muscle size of my abs to make them really
Exposing your abdominals is a matter of
getting very low body fat levels. The lower your
body fat, the "thinner" your skin will appear
(actually the "skin-fold" which contains skin plus
subcutaneous fat), and the more your abdominals will
Developing your abs is a matter of training, and in
that respect, the popular maxim "abs are made in the
kitchen, not in the gym" is not entirely true. It's
only true that without the proper diet (doing it
right in the kitchen), the ab exercises by
themselves are useless. Well-developed abs can
remain covered up with a layer of fat and it's
possible to out-eat any amount of exercise.
There are two personality types in regards to
pursuing six pack abs.
Personality A is the person who thinks, "as
long as I get super lean, my abs will show," so they
blow off ab workouts or train them very little,
thinking they'll have ab EXPOSURE and ab DEVELOPMENT
just by being lean (diet alone).
Personality B (which includes a lot of women)
is the type of person who cranks out a 30 minute or
even a one HOUR ab class every day, but they're not
aware of the importance of low body fat - or they
simply don't put the effort into fat-burning
nutrition, so they never get their body fat low
Both of these people are making a mistake.
Here's the true secret of exposing your abs and
getting them to "pop out" more:
It's absolutely a combination of both - low body fat
to EXPOSE the ab muscles (reveal/uncover the muscle
that's already underneath), and training to DEVELOP
the ab muscles (build what's not there yet). If your
ab muscles aren't well developed, they're still not
going to pop much even if you reach ultra-low body
fat levels. You have to train them as diligently as
any other muscle.
Some people find abdominal development difficult.
I've always found building abs easy - the removal of
the fat was the harder part for me. It took me years
before I figured that out. The good news is, after I
learned how to get ripped just once, I owned it for
life. It's like riding a bicycle - you can always
get back on and ride even if you haven't ridden for
years, once you know how.
So which personality type are you? A or B?
If you're a
personality A, who is ultra dedicated on nutrition but
not training, you need to get cracking on those ab
If you're a personality B who is training abs like
crazy, but doesn't have the low body fat yet, you need
to dial in the nutrition.
A program like
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle would be perfect
for personality B because Burn the Fat, Feed the
muscle is a complete guidebook to fat burning
Ultimately what you really want is become
personality C. These are the "abdominally
enlightened ones" - the people who take nutrition
(revealing the abs) and training (developing the
abs) as equally important and can recognize which
area needs the work. Personality C always gets the
The Value of Body Fat Percentage Vs. Skinfold
Another suggestion: Don't put too much stock in the
body fat number by itself. That number is valuable
for tracking your week to week fat loss progress,
but outside of progress tracking, the body fat
number itself is good for little more than bragging
Some people are tracking overall body fat
percentage, but not paying much attention to the
individual skinfolds. It's very possible for
skinfolds on the extremities and even in the hip
bone area (illiac crest skinfold site) to be quite
low and to have body fat more concentrated in the
abdominal area near the umbilicus.
It's very enlightening to know the skinfold
thickness measurement in your abdominal area. That
helps you when you're trying to figure out if you
need to get lower body fat and get "thinner skin" to
reveal your abs more. Most people track the iliac
crest skinfold but not the abdominal skinfold. The
abdominal skinfold is usually at least a few
millimeters higher than the iliac fat fold.
If you have veins running across your belly button
area and / or your abdominal skinfold is in the
range of 3.0 mm, you are bloody ripped. With low
single-number skinfolds, your abs are showing as
much as they're going to show. If you want them to
look better, it's all about ab training at that
If you want to be brutally honest with yourself on
your level of leanness, find the largest skinfold
and use that as your benchmark, not your smallest
skinfold.Visualize an imaginary circle right around
your belly button - there is almost always a pocket
of fat there even when the illiac crest fat has "run
dry" and even when the very lower lower ab region is
starting to show veins.
By the way, this all means that skinfold testing is
more useful in the quest for six pack abs than
bodyfat testing methods like bioelectric impedance
analysis (BIA) because you literally know the
skinfold thickness covering the abs. Measure
skinfolds as well as body fat percentage and you
have more feedback to judge progress. What gets
measured gets improved.
Chapter 3 in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is
totally dedicated to how to measure your own body
fat percentage. If you're not measuring it yet, you
need to start and you need to learn how to do it
Abdominal Shape and Genetics: What Training Can
and Cannot Change
As for DEVELOPING the abs more - that's achieved
with training. I've always found the abdominals easy
to develop. Admittedly, this is partially related to
genetics. Some people have "easy to develop muscles"
(mesomorphs) and some have "hard to develop muscles"
and that's dictated by genetics on an individual
abs linea alba
But one thing you have to realize, is that whether
you have the best or the worst genetic potential for
muscle size, the structure of your abdominal
musculature is entirely genetic. NOT EVERYONE HAS A
PERFECT 6-PACK. The six pack is three rows of rectus
abdominus separated by tendinous horizontal bands
and one large tendinous band down the middle called
the linea alba.
Some guys have a wide and deep lina alba, to the
point it looks like a gap. That's not necessarily a
bad thing, it's just an individual's genetically
given muscle shape.
Some people have only 2 visible rows of abs and
below that where the 3rd row is usually located is
only a flat sheet of tendinous tissue - no 3rd row.
Others have 4 visible rows if you count the
lowermost portion of the abs - an 8 pack. Some
people consider having the 8-pack being the ultimate
in "genetic freakiness."
Some people have even rows of abs horizontally,
while others have the abs offset as in slightly
"checkered." Some people consider the even rows to
be more aesthetically pleasing (though there have
been plenty of Mr. America's, Mr. Universes and Mr.
Olympia's who did NOT have even rows of abs).
Ladies and gentlemen - YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANY OF
If you have a 4 pack, all you can do is develop the
4 pack you have. You can make that 4-pack "pop out"
more, but you can't build a 3rd row to give you a 6
pack where there is no muscle fiber to begin with.
If you have a 6 pack with even rows, you are
considered genetically gifted, at least in a muscle
aesthetics sense. If you have an 8 pack with nice,
even rows, we're going to call you a "genetic
Developing "Abdominal Muscle Size"
Inside the limitations of your genetics, the
abdominal muscle fibers that you DO have can be
developed like any other muscles - they can
hypertrophy with direct training.
abs that pop
The difference between the abs and other muscles is
that the abs don't "plump out" as much as a muscle
with a large muscle "BELLY." The abs are literally a
long flat sheet, whereas the bicep is a muscle with
a large belly and therefore will "plump out" and
become more round and peaked ("popping out"
literally), as it hypertrophies.
Although abs don't grow outward as much as other
muscles, they do POP OUT and take on a slightly
rounded appearance. How shall I describe it... kind
of like giant chicklets or raviolis!
What about lower abs? Most people seem to have
trouble there. Can you target lower abs and make
them pop more? This is controversial. Some experts
say no you can't train your upper and lower abs
separately. When highly regarded authorities like
spinal biomechanics expert Stuart McGill say you
can't isolate your lower abs, a lot of trainers
consider it "case closed."
Naturally, you cannot completely isolate your lower
abs, but many trainers and bodybuilders do believe
that different exercises can place a little more
stress on the lower ab sections than the upper ab
sections. Some argue that there are different
innervation points for different segments of the
adbominals. Others point to EMG studies which show
greater activation of the lower abdominals during
Usually these are the exercises that bring the legs
toward the upper body and or tilt the pelvis back.
These include hanging knee ups, hanging leg raises,
lying hip thrusts ("toes to sky" exercise) and
reverse crunches. (Hanging leg raises are very
difficult, but if you can master them, they will
bring out your abdominals at an alarmingly fast
Adding weight to your abdominal exercises may also
help your abs pop out more
The abs are a muscle that can often be trained very
effectively just with body weight. The problem is,
most people stick with bodyweight exercises
exclusively, even when they can do more than 25 reps
per set, sometimes even 50 or 100 reps. At that
point, you're training pure endurance and not
It's absolutely a myth that endless high reps gives
you better abs. If your goal is endurance or
personal satisfaction about your conditioning
abilities, that's one thing. But doing hundreds of
reps on abs with bodyweight is the wrong approach.
I know some girls who can do abs for an hour, it
seems (I'll never figure that one out. Guys, unless
youre related to Jack LaLanne, don't try to keep up
with those girls who teach ab classes, they will
embarrass you, LOL! I bow to women's ab endurance).
But anyway, remember that muscle hypertrophy is
achieved in the 8-12 rep range and even if abs are a
more high-rep responsive muscle, 15-20 reps with
some weight ought to do it.
Add some weight, drop the reps, go for a nice
squeeze and contraction instead of those sloppy
"speed reps" and see for yourself how much more it
makes your abs pop.
Warning: Build Your Abs, But Don't Build
I do have one final warning about weighted
exercises: don't train your obliques with heavy
weight if you're prone to easy muscle growth there.
Exercises like weighted side bends can make your
waist wider and throw off your symmetry.
Pro bodybuilders who are naturally blocky and NOT
born with the "Frank Zane tiny waist" and "classical
symmetry" are not doomed - just look at Jay Cutler,
Mr Olympia. However, guys with the propensity for
large obliques have to blow up their deltoids to
almost ridiculous size to compensate visually for
the naturally wider waist.
They also have to be utterly paranoid about doing
anything that will make the waist wider. Yet
wherever I go, I always see people doing heavy
weighted side bends (with a dumbbell), thinking that
will shrink the waist. Wrong. It will do the
The dual effect of larger wider shoulders and
simulaneously shrinking waist size PLUS rectus
abdominals development and low body fat (via proper
nutrition) is STUNNING!
So, I think I've made the case pretty clear that abs
are made in the kitchen AND in the gym, not one or
If you're a genetic freak mesomorph, you might diet
down and find that your abs are already there. I
know people who never train their abs (directly) and
they have amazing six packs. On that note, I know
people who have freaky calves who never work them
either. Chalk up both of those scenarios to
For most of us in the normal range of the genetic
bell curve however, it's going to take strict diet
AND hard training to get ultimate abs develoment and
see that washboard pop!
If you need help with the "Abs are made in the
kitchen" side of the six pack equation (fat burning
nutrition), there is no better resource than
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. It's literally
like the bible of fat burning nutrition and body
CLICK HERE to learn More About Burn the Fat, Feed
Tom Venuto, Author of:
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Fat Burning Secrets of Bodybuilders And Fitness
About Fitness Author and Fat Loss
Coach, Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is the author
of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the
Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best
Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a
lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who
achieved an astonishing ripped 3.7% body fat level
without drugs or supplements.
Discover how to
increase your metabolism, burn stubborn body fat and
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